Saturday, July 16, 2016

Colorado Trip 2016 - One Heck of A Trout Grand Slam

My annual trip to Colorado can best be described as a bit "early" but very productive. The spawn at Trappers Lake appeared to be peaking while I was there. As a result, the excellent dry-fly fishing on Trappers which I have come to expect (and prefer) was pretty much a non-event. So I switched over to nymphs and had some success with the crystal flash, zebra midge, but primarily the Fitz Special which continues to produce well not only on Trappers but also the high lakes in the Flat Tops Wilderness. However, the one single fish I caught on a dry-fly on Trappers was a record low for me. But while the sheer number of fish I caught in the Flat Tops region may have been down this year, the average size was bigger. I attribute this to bigger fish staying closer to the bottom and more susceptible to nymphs. Here's a nice cutthroat in full spawning regalia from a high mountain lake in the Flat Tops. It fell victim to the Fitz Special:

Is there a more spectacular looking trout than a cutthroat in full spawning colors?

Like last summer, I set my personal best for brook trout this year. Actually, three times on three consecutive fish! Here's one I took the time to self-pic:

Here's another brook I caught on the hike in with Scott - this one took the Fitz Special as well:

 These were real healthy brookies - they fought like hell. Great fun!

I didn't see any Moose in the Flat Tops Wilderness this year, but I did see some nice tracks - so they're still around for sure. Hope they make it through another Fall hunting season and through the winter too!

Scott brought a great care package up from Meeker: Pizza from La Familia along with sixers of Stella and Colorado Home Brew in an ice chest packed with ice. Pizza, beer - and badly needed ice - what else could I have asked for? Thanks Scott! Duane also turned me on to another bottle of his "Backyard Wine". This year it was a Strawberry Rhubard which I drank with a couple on the Fryingpan River to celebrate July 4th. Thanks Duane!

Anyhow, the Flat Tops was fun but not as fun as when I'm getting up every morning looking forward to fishing dry-flies. Next year! So I hauled ass down to the Fryingpan River to get a campsite before the July 4th crowd got there. When I arrived at the primitive campground, I was like why did I get up at 5am and drive so hard as the place was near empty. But by the time I had the Teardrop disconnected and set-up, the place was full. Whew. Anyhow, lots of people this year (more out-of-staters coming to Colorado for summer vacations and to buy their hooch), but I got down to the river the first evening before the crowd and busted the shit out of some trout on the Pan. Here's a handsome brown trout that took my #20 zebra midge dropper (thanks for the photo Jenny!):

And here's the very first fish I caught on the Pan this year - a classic Fryingpan football (rainbow) that fought like hell. The fish was pissed off! Fooled him with a black leach pattern with two strips of flash. It was floated with no weight and drifted for ~20 feet, then stripped - he hit after the very first strip:

I had my first bad encounter with a campground host in 25 years of camping this year. The guy pulls up at 9:30 pm and wakes me up (remember, I woke up at 5am, set-up a new camp, and fished til near dark). I crawl out of my trailer and there is a spotlight on me and the host jumps on me for not reading his note. What note? I ask and he says the note on the door of my trailer. But of course he left the note on the door I wasn't using. Then I find out he has a problem with my check because I crossed out my address. I said yes, I recently moved and crossed out the address on the check and put my new - correct - address on the envelop that I filled out and put the check in. Well this doesn't sit well with him at all and he starts badgering me like I am a criminal or something! I guess I would have been much better off just leaving the incorrect address on the check. And I am like seriously man, if I was going to try to pass a hot check I think I would have written it for a bit more than $42 bucks (two nights of camping fees). At this point he tells me I am free to leave! Seriously. I have been camping at this campground for nearly 20 years and I have never had anyone doubt my checks and no one ever treated me this way. But he demands to see my drivers license (!) or he wants me to leave. I couldn't believe it. Not to mention everyone else is watching this like wow, what did this guy do. I am getting pissed off just writing about it. And this is the same campground that a few years back  I spent two afternoons clearing downed aspen trees off the road so people could come into the primitive campground! The campground host at that time (a very nice lady) was so thankful she let me camp free for those two days. But this guy was on some kind of a serious power trip. And he wakes me up at 9:30 pm to lay it on me? Unbelievable. I think I am going to write the Colorado DOW about this experience and let them know there are other states that want my fly-fishing expenditures if CO is going to accept more campground hosts like this guy. Maybe it was the old man beard I was sporting combined with the retro Teardrop trailer...perhaps he thought I was homeless! Heh heh. But the fishing on the Pan was excellent and I even caught a few trout on dries on the lower stretches - but not all that many and no green drakes hatches like in previous years :(

I did experience something quite odd: a hail storm that lasted almost 2 hours. No exaggeration. I came back from a fishing outing to make a ham sandwich and guzzle a Stella and there was a big-ass bolt of lightning followed by a rumble of thunder that made my ga-noobles vibrate, and then a big black storm blew over the top of the mountain and all hell broke lose in the campground. This picture was taken after only the first 45 minutes or so when I was stranded in my truck. It was mostly pea sized hail, but everyone once in awhile it would get even noisier and there was some marble sized hail:

After I took this photo I thought the hail was over, finished my Stella, and got into the Teardrop. Then it started back up, harder than before and it pretty much kept hailing/raining for the next hour-n-a-half. It was so loud inside I thought surely my Teardrop's aluminum shell was ruined. After it was all over there was almost 3 inches of hail stones on top of the Teardrop and Toyota. Yes, I should have got photos of that but after sitting in the trailer listening to the hail beat hell out of it all I could think of when I got out was to see what the damage was. Amazingly, no damage to the trailer or truck. You gotta love a Toyota clear coat finish! Anyhow, I had never been in anything like that before. I found out later down in Basalt all they got was rain - no hail at all. Basalt is about 14 miles down the river road and ~1,800 feet lower in elevation than the campground.

After the Pan I passed straight through Salida as the Ark was still quite high and I was anxious to fish the Conejos since I didn't make it there last year. While stocking up in Alamosa, the check engine light went on in the Toyota - the first time that has happened in the 14 years I have owned it. I figured it was the O2 sensor but stopped in at the local AutoZone to get the code read out. A guy there read it out (for free) and the code was P1135 - sure enough, the O2 sensor. But now that I am home and have consulted my repair manuals, I see there are two sensors and the code message and repair manual aren't clear about which one is the culprit. So I will have to disconnect the sensors' connectors and measure the resistance across two terminals to see which one is faulty. I haven't done it yet because the engine light has gone off and not reappeared. But I suppose I should check my gas mileage to see if it's having a negative affect on that, but I'll get around to replacing the sensor(s) one of these days. Regardless, one engine light malfunction after 14 years and 170,000 miles ain't too bad. The Toyota continues to perform great - drove it pretty much 75-80 mph the whole way to/from CO with the trailer and AC on and it barely used a drop of oil. It's been a great truck!

So I made it down to the Conejos River and was anxious to get into some serious dry-fly fishing on the upper meadow. It was not to be. On my first outing the wind picked up and was blowing an estimated 30+ mph plus. Man, how frustrating it was to be on such premier fly-fishing water and deal with wind like that! I went to bed thinking surely it must be better the next day. Nope, same thing. The last day I got up at dawn and hit the river just after the sun came over the mountain. I had about an hour of really good fishing (usually I don't even start until 9:30 am or so) and then the gale force winds started up again. C'est la vie. Next year.

Lost Phone - Found Phone

On the way home I reached over to call a friend to help the miles roll by faster only to find my phone was not there. Panic! I pulled over and looked in the typical places - under the seat, beside the console - it was gone. Oh hell. There were only two places I stopped since using it last - the Carl's Junior in Walsenburg for my annual Western Bacon Cheeseburger (love these guys but they are ~30% smaller then when they first came out in San Diego back in the early 1980's and are now more than 2x the price back then) and the Chevron station in Raton, NM. Then I remembered ... I had been eating pistachio nuts and throwing the shells on the floor board thinking I would clean them up at the next gas-up. Which I did. But, I remembered while bending over to pick up the shells I heard a "click" and - thinking it was a handle on a gas pump - paid no attention. Wrong...that click was my phone getting knocked out of its holster and falling onto the pavement. So I went to call the Chevron station but that's tough without a phone so I continued driving down the road - away from Raton - to the next establishment which luckily had a very friendly lady that let me use her phone. Yes! The Chevron attendant said a phone had been found and turned in! So, I retraced the 37 miles back to the CVX station and sure enough, it was my phone and was in perfect working condition although the protective case was cracked. Who-hoooo! Happy boy and this experience re-established my faith in humanity - at least three good people in a row: the girl that let me use her phone, the person who found the phone and turned it in, and the gas station attendant who held it for me. This more than made up for the campground host experience! When I think of not only the cost of a new iPhone, but the time and effort to restore the contact list and general configuration (none of which I have backed up on the iCloud), man, was I relieved to get it back!


Anyhow, to sum up this year's trip: I arrived too early and the dry fly-fishing wasn't good. But I did catch some nice trout on nymphs and the Pan fished great! In fact, on a "grand slam of trout" basis the combination of my biggest cutthroat, brook (personal best), brown, and rainbow this year certainly exceeded my biggest four of any other year. By far. But the fact they were all caught on nymphs was odd (at least for me). The hail storm and campground host at the Pan were also a bit odd and I sure missed catching 15-20 trout a day during a green drake hatch on dry-flies! This is what I dream about but it was not to be this year. But hopefully I can time it right and make it back soon. In addition, July 4th came on a Monday this year and it's always much worse when it falls on a weekend versus in the middle of the week. In 2017 July 4th falls on a Tuesday and that may make the campground traffic somewhat better, but probably not too much.

Tight lines my friends and may your dreams of landing big trout be fulfilled this Summer and Fall!


Trevor Casey said...

Hey Fitz! Good to see you had a great trip! Man, those are some nice fish you brought to the net. Too bad about that CG host, he's probably some grumpy old fellow that is in the wrong retirement gig. He shouldn't be dealing with people! We actually didn't get to get up there until mid-August due to schedule constraints. Normally we arrive in mid to late July. We stayed at Cutthroat CG for 3 nights then one in the lodge for the ladies. It was a amazing how the crowds have increased over the last few years up there, especially in mid-August when everybody is supposed to be back in school... The lodge was pretty much booked and spots in the CG's were hard to come by. Anyways, until next year brother! -TC

the_fitzman said...

Hey Trevor - thanks and yes, the CG host was certainly a drag but I guess after 20+ years of camping I have been lucky that that was the first such experience. Yes! The campground crowds in Colorado have certainly increased - pretty much all over the state. I think the legalization of marijuana has had a big impact on tourism in general, and now even more people are finding out about the state. Call me selfish, but I hate to see it happening. 20 years ago I remember many times being the only one, or next to the only one, during the week at many of the campgrounds I stayed out. Those days are over. But Colorado is still a wonderful experience and while we may have to work a bit harder, there is still some excellent fly-fishing to be found on public waters. Glad you had a good time!